Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 10. Literature Applied to Practical Tasks

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXII. Lincoln

§ 10. Literature Applied to Practical Tasks

The other thing that grew upon him was his power to reach and influence them through words. The court room was his finishing academy. The faculty that had been with him from the start—directness, freedom from rhetoric—was seized upon in the life-and-death-ness of the legal battle, and given an edge, so to speak, that was incomparable. The distinction between pure and applied art, like the distinction between pure and applied mathematics, is never to be forgotten. Applied art, the art that must be kept in hand, steadily incidental to an ulterior purpose, affords, in a way, the sharpest test of artisticality. Many a mere writer who might infuse himself into an imaginative fantasy would fail miserably to infuse himself into a statement of fact. To attend strictly to business, and yet to be entirely individual—this is a thrilling triumph of intellectual assimilation. This is what Lincoln in these years of his second period acquired the power to do. When he emerges at its close in the speeches against Douglas, at last he has his second manner, a manner quite his own. It is not his final manner, the one that was to give him his assured place in literature. However, in a wonderful blend of simplicity, directness, candour, joined with a clearness beyond praise, and a delightful cadence, it has outstripped every other politician of the hour. And back of its words, subtly affecting its phrases, echoing with the dreaminess of a distant sound through all its cadences, is that brooding sadness which was to be with him to the end.